"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"...SMS-style

The latest money-spinner in the Australian mobile phone market--SMS games--has been launched by Telstra and if the European lead is anything to go by the telco heavyweight is set to make a killing.

SYDNEY (ZDNet Australia)--The latest money-spinner in the Australian mobile phone market--Short Messaging Service (SMS) games–-has been launched by Telstra, and if the European lead is anything to go by the telco heavyweight is set to make a killing.

Telstra MobileNet customers now have access to Australia’s first SMS game based on the television program "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", a popular trivia game show that started in the UK and spread as far as Singapore and Australia.

The prize money for the SMS version might not be a million bucks, but up for grabs in the first three months of the game is a respectable A$10,000 (US$5,183).

To play is simple: each correct answer sent within three minutes triggers a new question. SMS gamers will, of course, be charged A$0.30 for each SMS sent.

In Europe, where three carriers launched the same game for their five million-odd subscribers, users answered an average of five questions and sent over two million SMS replies in the first 30 days, said Telstra.

“We are confident that SMS games will be equally as popular as the overseas experience,” noted Telstra general manager of wireless multimedia Greg van Mourik in a statement.

The Australian telco claims to have a mobile subscriber base of over five million, 30 percent of whom "use SMS regularly". However, it is tight-lipped about the expected revenue from these games.

What about the Singapore gamers?
"Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" is aired in Singapore, too. But although sponsored in part by the island's number two telco StarHub Pte Ltd, the telco is not ready to adapt the game for SMS.

"We are exploring SMS games...(but) it is too early to tell (if we are offering an SMS game based on the TV show)," said a StarHub spokesperson when contacted today. StarHub had about 329,000 mobile phone subscribers as at March.

The island's number one telco Singapore Telecommunications Ltd could not comment on whether it would be following in Telstra's footsteps with the SMS version of the game.

However, it noted that it has started offering six contest-based games over SMS since June. Pricing varies from S$0.10 to S$0.50 per game, and depending on the game, each SMS sent could be free or be levied a S$0.10 fee. SingTel has the largest number of mobile subscribers in Singapore, with a base of 1.64 million customers as at June.

MobileOne Asia Pte Ltd, Singapore's third major player, is also offering customers its version of the "Spin The Bottle" game on SMS--among others. Called Spin The Phone, it has to be played with two or more friends and involves forfeits. Each SMS sent will cost S$0.30. M1 has about 800,000 mobile phone subscribers as at May.

Gambling trap?
Australia-based telecommunications analyst Paul Budde sees the new market as a very “lucrative” one. However, "it’s like gambling…(and) I think it’s a rip-off," he said, adding that SMS game players would probably rack up tens of dollars in bills--a potential trap for the youth market, which he considers the predominant users of SMS.

According to Telstra representative Virginia Murphy, however, the demographic of SMS users isn’t what people tend to think it is.

“Most people tend to think that the youths tend to use [SMS] a lot more than people on higher-end (mobile phone) plans…But people on higher-end plans tend to use it as much as people on lower-end plans,” she said.

Telstra, which is rolling out a three-month long advertising campaign to promote the game has a sub-licence from Finnish interactive wireless games company Codeonline. The license gives the telco exclusive rights to the game in Australia for six months.

Additional reporting by Irene Tham.

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